PITTSBURGH, PA (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski took the lead on the final lap to win Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway.
Wood Brothers Racing’s Matt DiBenedetto took the white flag as the leader in the No. 21 Ford with Keselowski behind him. The pair stayed nose-to-tail down the backstretch but as the outside line started to get a run through turn 3, DiBenedetto went to the high side and opening the low line up for Keselowski, who took full advantage with help from behind to grab the lead all the way to the checkered flag.
“What an awesome day today to bring the MoneyLion Ford Mustang into victory lane,” said Keselowski. “The whole race I had a couple opportunities to take the lead, but I just kept thinking, ‘Man, keep your car in one piece’.”
The victory marked the first of the 2021 season for Keselowski and his sixth triumph at the 2.66-mile Alabama superspeedway.
“We’ve been so close here and it just didn’t seem to want to come together here the last few years and I’ve been on kind of a four-year drought here, but it’s nice to get number six,” said Keselowski.
Keselowski tied both Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon for the most wins at the track with his 35th career Cup Series victory.
“I would have never dreamed I’d tie Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. here. That’s something,” remarked Keselowski, who has now won at least one NASCAR Cup Series race in each of the past 10-seasons. “Those guys are really legends. I’m just really proud of my team.”
Keselowski’s margin of victory was 0.102-seconds in a race that featured 35-lead changes among 17-drivers.
Hendrick Motorsports William Byron came across the stripe in second place, extending his streak of top-10 finishes to eight races.
“Rudy and I’s communication is the kryptonite in the whole thing,” said Byron about Crew Chief Rudy Fugle. “I feel like we’re able to work really well together. That shows with how consistently we run every week, just ability to improve the car over the race. We did have some handling issues at the beginning of the race. Quickly fixed those, resolved that, had a race car to drive towards the front with.”
Daytona 500 winner Michael McDowell was third, followed by Stewart Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick and DiBenedetto.
“Our day will come,” lamented DiBenedetto about the missed opportunity at a victory. “We’ll get there, it’s just so circumstantial—our day will come.”
A couple of drivers had a miserable day in Alabama including Hendrick’s Kyle Larson, who had an engine issue after completing only three laps. Larson finished last (40th).
Keselowski’s teammate Joey Logano finished 39th after flipping over when he got together with Denny Hamlin and Ricky Stenhouse in turn 3.
“I am appreciative of driving a car that is this safe and what Team Penske has done for the safety of these cars so that I can live to talk about it and go again,” said Logano. “I got lucky that I didn’t get hit while I was in the air. It is unfortunate for our Autotrader Mustang but we will go on but it won’t be a good starting spot next week.”
Last week’s winner Alex Bowman finished 38th after getting caught up in an accident. Bowman’s team was unable to complete repairs in six minutes and was forced to retire the car under NASCAR’s Damaged Vehicle Policy.
The next NASCAR Cup Series race is May 2, 2021 at Kansas Speedway.
Jimmie Johnson attacking move to INDYCAR.
INDIANAPOLIS, IN (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Carvana Chip Ganassi Racing’s Jimmie Johnson is attacking his first year in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES with the work ethic you would expect of a Champion.
Johnson is two races into his INDYCAR career and each week presents a new challenge to the veteran racer.
“There’s just many new things,” Johnson told Pittsburgh Racing Now. “A tire I’ve not been on. A circuit I’ve not been on. There’s just so many new things it feels like I am starting all over again.”
What Johnson is trying to do, transitioning from the big and heavy stock cars to a more powerful but lighter INDYCAR, reminds some sports fans of the time NBA Hall-of-famer Michael Jordan played baseball.
Johnson’s CGR teammate, six-time and reigning series Champion, Scott Dixon explained that what Johnson is doing would be like Dixon picking up his golf clubs and trying to go and win ‘The Masters’.
“Jimmie’s learning curve is very steep and very aggressive,” said Dixon. “Probably one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen of anybody trying to do in sport. For him, he’s having to un-learn 20-plus years of what he was doing. I think his work ethic and attention to detail, we’re just going to have to give him some time to get comfortable.”
With a couple of races under his belt Johnson explained to Pittsburgh Racing Now what he’s looking for to go faster.
“Finding the edge,” said Johnson. “Finding it safely and consistently and that edge of grip and traction is two-to-three times what I’ve experienced in a NASCAR vehicle, so I keep reaching and occasionally I reach in the wrong areas but I keep reaching and trying to find it and I’m getting closer.”
Johnson is bringing his legendary work ethic to INDYCAR, spending countless hours trying to shorten his learning curve, impressing team owner Chip Ganassi.
“He’s a damn, hard worker,” said Ganassi. “He’s set the bar at a new level for the amount of work a driver puts in. He’s always in the simulator, on the computer, on the phone, making calls, asking questions, working out, talking to sponsors, talking to the team. The guy doesn’t slow down. I had no idea what I was up against racing against him in NASCAR. Now I got little feel for it. He’s a hard worker. My hats off to him.”
Ganassi knows there will be up and downs but isn’t setting any expectations for the seven-time NASCAR champ.
“I think some podiums would be considered a success,” said Ganassi. “He has the talent, he has the race craft. Once we get him comfortable I think the racer will come out in him.”
Johnson is sharing the No. 48 with 2004 INDYCAR Champion and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan. Johnson will drive the road and street circuit and Kanaan will drive the oval races.
“We knew it was going to be hard,” said Kanaan of Johnson’s move to INDYCAR. “I think he’s trying to learn as quick as he can. As competitive as he is, he’s trying to go as fast as he can and sometimes mistakes happen. I think after the mistakes he’s been pretty solid. He finished both races and he was getting a lot quicker towards the end of both races.”
Johnson’s transition is just like when open wheel Champions Dario Franchitti, Juan Pablo Montoya and Sam Hornish Jr climbed into stock cars.
“Some of the drivers had a hard time when they made the switch from INDYCAR to NASCAR,” said Kanaan. “That proves that INDYCAR is tough as well.”
Off the track Johnson has had success bringing a new sponsor, online automotive retailer Carvana, into the sport. What’s even more impressive is that he brought a new sponsor into the sport in the middle of a global pandemic.
“We were out working hard trying to find a sponsor through all the traditional means,” explained Johnson. “Literally through my wife (Chandra) and some friends in Oklahoma that she grew up in and around, led me to a phone call with Ernie Garcia (CEO) from Carvana. He instantly had a vision of the transition I’m trying to make and could grasp it.”
Carvana has embraced joining the sport and is not wasting any time activating the partnership with Johnson and the Ganassi team.
“Although he’s (Garcia) new to motorsport and they’ve never sponsored anything in auto racing, he could see this opportunity crystal clear,” said Johnson. “Very thankful to bring a new sponsor in and how they are activating is second to none and I’m really excited about the relationship.”
Part of Carvana’s activation is giving fans the opportunity to pick the color schemes that Johnson will campaign at various races by visiting their website and casting a vote: www.carvana.com/racing/indy/vote.
Vending McQueen? Feeless Flyer? Black Tie Affair? Three new liveries are up for vote!
— Carvana Racing (@CarvanaRacing) April 28, 2021
Attracting a new sponsor to your first year competing in the highest form of open wheel racing in the United States may surprise some people but those who know Jimmie Johnson aren’t surprised at all.
“He’s relentless,” said Kanaan. “He’s the type of guy, he’s going to make this work. I wouldn’t count Jimmie Johnson out just yet.”
Johnson and the No. 48 Carvana Honda return to the track with the GMR Grand Prix, May 15 on the road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Kyle Busch sweeps NASCAR weekend at Kansas Speedway
KANSAS CITY, KS (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Kyle Busch seized the lead on a restart with two-laps-to-go and kept the rest of the NASCAR Cup Series field at bay to win Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway.
The victory was the first in 2021 for Busch, 58th of his career and 2nd of the weekend after taking the Camping World Truck Series win on Saturday.
“Great to be able to get everyone back in Victory Lane again this early in the season and get those points going our way,” said Busch. “It’s pretty awesome to win the Buschy McBusch Race with Kyle Busch, and I’ve always told Kevin Harvick he’s one of the biggest Kyle Busch fans because he wears my name on him every single week. So it was nice to beat him today.”
Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski finished second and third followed by Matt DiBenedetto and reigning series Champion Chase Elliott.
“I think we’ve done a good job with everything that we have except for a couple weeks where we had some bad luck with flat tires, but some years start out good and you go like gangbusters and some years they don’t start out good and you have to figure it out,” said Harvick. “So that’s just part of the game.”
“We weren’t quite as fast as we wanted to be,” said Keselowski. “The Gibbs cars were really fast and Kyle Larson was screaming fast, so a very similar race for us to Vegas, kind of right there on that edge of the top five. We just need a little bit more, but we almost stole one there with pitting and the yellow came out there with 10 to go and it was just kind of the restart chaos.”
Kyle Larson led a race-high 132-of-167 laps but settled for a 19th place finish following that late race restart where he got shuffled back to third, made contact with Ryan Blaney, and slid up into the wall.
“Lining up behind Blaney, and my plan was just to push him as hard as I could and try and be with him on the backstretch to shove him and hopefully get them guys racing in front of me or potentially get inside or outside for the lead somehow,” explained Larson. “I had just planned on pushing him really hard, and obviously I did that and got him sideways and ended up getting us both in the wall.”
Martin Truex Jr was sixth, followed by Tyler Reddick, Chris Buescher, William Byron and Austin Dillon.
The NASCAR Cup Series next race is the Goodyear 400 at the track ‘Too Tough To Tame’, Darlington Raceway on Sunday May 9th.
Martin Truex Jr Victorious At Martinsville Speedway
MARTINSVILLE, PA (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Martin Truex Jr passed teammate Denny Hamlin on lap 485 and went on the win the rain-delayed NASCAR Cup Series Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway. The victory was Truex’s second of 2021 and 29th of his Cup Series Career.
“He (Hamlin) started getting tight, our car was getting better and better,” said Truex of the late race pass. “We were able to take advantage of it. Really happy. For whatever reason our car really turned on when the lights went down. Always good when a plan comes together and it works out the way you hoped it would.”
Hendrick Motorsports Chase Elliott finished second, his seventh top-10 finish in 13-races at Martinsville and fourth top-10 of 2021.
“Really, really hard-fought second actually for us,” said Elliott. “We were not great, but had some, I guess our strong suit was kind of early on in the run, then really faded hard, too hard there in the latter part of a run. But we never got one of those super long runs, which is probably a good thing for us because we were struggling on that end. But, yeah, proud we could fight back.”
Hamlin settled for third after leading the most laps in the race (267).
“Had a really good car on the short run all day,” said Hamlin. “Got great restarts. Was fast for 25, 30 laps. Then it seemed like guys would start catching us. Unfortunately it was just too many laps there at the end that we couldn’t hold those guys off.”
Hendrick Motorsports teammates William Byron and Kyle Larson finished fourth and fifth respectively, giving HMS three cars in the top 5.
The race featured 18-lead changes among 7-drivers and was slowed by 15-caution flags for 105-laps.
The next NASCAR Cup Series race is April 18, 2020 at Richmond Raceway.